Is technology the message?


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Lecture slides on McLuhan lecture for ARIN2600 Technocultures at the University of Sydney. This explores McLuhan's probing approach to media, which positions technology as an extension of human faculties. By implication, changes in media / technology change what it is to be human. McLuhan remains a controversial, but influential figure in media and new media studies.

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Is technology the message?

  1. Is the technology the message? Lecture 3, 2009 ARIN2600 Technocultures Chris Chesher Digital Cultures University of Sydney
  3. Marshall McLuhan • 1911–1980 Mechanical Bride (1951) Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) Understanding Media (1964) Medium is the massage (1967) Laws of Media with Eric McLuhan (1988)
  4. The Medium is the Message
  5. Media determinism • ‘Civilisations’ change with media change • Media extend human faculties • Media and thought are closely bound • inverts disembodiment of information to argue that medium is all-pervading • Switches between figure and ground • From Communication to Medium
  6. Gutenberg Galaxy: Oral/Aural culture • Individuals are connected to their environment & community • Magical, emotional • Empathy and participation • Rituals and memorisation • Integration of the senses • Resistance to change
  7. The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way…
  8. Print culture • Private individual • independent of environment • Possessive individualism • Uniformity and homogenisation • Alphabet + uniformity of print • Specialisation • Detachment • fixed point of view
  9. Electric age • Instantaneity — allatonceness • Decline in linear thinking • Instant connections; multi-tasking • Less specialisation • Retribalisation • Aware of others watching
  10. The effects of new media on our sensory lives are similar to the effects of new poetry. They change not our thoughts but the structure of our world.
  11. What is intellectual work? • For McLuhan… • Aphorisms & epigrams • Hyperbole & epochal generalisations • pattern recognition not Classification • probes more than concepts • Teacher / public intellectual (academic as media event)
  12. Annie Hall (1977)
  13. New media are new archetypes, at first disguised as degradations of older media. These degradations happen when new media inevitably use old media as content. Using the older ones as content hastens the tidying up process by which a medium becomes an art form (1964)
  14. Understanding several media simultaneously is the best way of approaching any one of them. Any study of one medium helps us to understand all others
  16. The tetrad quot;What does the artifact ENHANCE or intensify or make possible or quot;If some aspect of a situation is accelerate? This can be asked enlarged or enhanced, ENHANCE OBSOLESCE concerning a wastebasket, a simultaneously the old condition or painting, a steamroller, or a zipper, unenhanced situation is displaced as well as about a proposition in thereby. What is pushed aside or Euclid or a law of physics. It can be OBSOLESCED by the new 'organ'?quot; asked about any word or phrase in any language.quot; quot;What recurrence or RETRIEVAL of When pushed to the limits of its earlier actions and services is potential (another complementary brought into play simultaneously by action), the new form will tend to RETRIEVE REVERSE the new form? What older, reverse what had been its original previously obsolesced ground is characteristics. What is the brought back and inheres in the new REVERSAL potential of the new form?quot; form?quot;
  17. Video • McLuhan’s Wake • directed by Kevin McMahon. • narrated by Laurie Anderson
  19. Overall focus of this unit of study… 1. How do technology and culture relate? • How does technological change affect perception / society / reality? 2. How can we study technology and culture? • ontology, epistemology • methodologies • disciplinary influences • theoretical abstractions
  20. McLuhan’s influences and legacies
  21. Innis • 1894-1952 • Space-binding media • Empire-building • Time-binding media • ‘plea for time’
  22. Paul Levinson • McLuhan follower • sees McLuhan’s work fulfilled in digital media • Darwinian theory of media change • libertarian politics
  23. Media professor/expert Paul Levinson on new media influence (excerpt_
  24. Other branches of thought influenced by McLuhan • James Carey Walter Ong • + culture +Orality and • Baudrillard literacy • + political economy Joshua Meyrowitz • Wired magazine +social space • ‘Patron saint’ Raymond Williams • critic of McLuhan & technological determinism
  25. Limitations of McLuhan Probes fall apart on close inspection • Paradoxes or inconsistencies? Epochal analysis • Is this really a new oral/aural civilisation? Technological determinism • Media change seems to cause everything What happened to social power?